Q: I'm planning a trip to the Dolomites and am after suggestions of must-see places since there is so much to see and not enough days to see it all in. Is it worth bringing climbing gear for sport climbing?
R. Berman, San Francisco, California
A: If you're a climber and you don't bring your gear to the Dolomites, you'll spend the better part your visit kicking yourself. What separates these mountains from the French and Swiss Alps is the abundance of limestone spires that rise abruptly from pristine alpine valleys. Everywhere you look, faces beg to be climbed. This is a rock lover's paradise.
A good place to start is the train-accessible town of Dobbiaco (www.dobbiaco.it), where you can stop in at the Dolomites visitor center for maps and info. From here you can take day hikes to ancient ruins, or hop on a bus to one of the smaller, nearby villages, where short hikes from the center of town will take you to the base of multi-pitch climbs.
Should you decide to make peak bagging your primary objective, then bypass the small-town intro and head straight for the Five Fingers (Punta della Cinque Dita). This 18-pitch traverse on the backside of the famed Sella Pass is a Dolomites classic. Since there's no shortage of comfortable holds, few sections top 5.6. It's a doable climb with very little traffic, and views that will make you feel like you've sampled the entire range.